NOAA: Recent whale deaths not linked to offshore wind

Whale deaths part of ‘unknown mortality event’


It was a somber scene Jan. 30-31 for those who traveled across the island to see a humpback whale beached on Lido Beach.

The 41-foot male majestic giant is the ninth whale since December 2022 to wash up along the New York and New Jersey coast, for which some organizations blame the ramping up of offshore wind farms. But, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is no evidence to support that claim. The NOAA says it has been tracking an “unusual mortality event” for whales —involving 179 of the mammals —  since 2016.

The Center for Coastal Studies said Luna had been tracked for four decades and was last spotted in December 2022 in the Gulf of Maine. Preliminary findings by NOAA suggest the whale was a victim of a vessel strike, but the samples collected will not yield definitive results for weeks or even months.

Luna was initially reported on the beach at 6:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30, with authorities arriving half an hour later. The whale was dragged away from the water, snapping three cables in the process, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said. Then state and federal authorities did an external examination on the first day of breaching.

“It’s a sight to see, but it really is heartbreaking — you know that this is what they’re seeing,” Clavin said. “This is the first one we’ve had washed up in probably four to five years, and talking to the men and women I work with here, this is the largest we’ve ever seen.”

The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society performed a necropsy the next day, and the whale was buried in the dunes after samples — including blubber, tissues, and organs — had been taken by marine scientists. The level of decomposition suggested the whale had been dead for several days before washing ashore, NOAA wrote in a press release after the necropsy.

NOAA communications specialist Andrea Gomez said the organization is grieving the loss of the whale with the community. As to the effect of offshore winds, she said there is “no evidence of any link.”

NOAA made that position abundantly clear during a media teleconference on the East Coast whale strandings a week prior to Luna’s washing up. During the conference, Benjamin Laws, deputy chief for NOAA’s permits and conservation division, said, “We do not believe that the evidence supports that those planned construction activities would exacerbate or compound these ongoing mortality events.”

The organization is attributing the whale deaths to an unknown mortality event, described as “a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

One potential cause of increased strandings could be the rise in whale populations. The United States declared humpback whales to be an endangered species in 1970, under the Endangered Species Conservation Act. But since then, the humpback whale population has grown from 15,000 to nearly 85,000, NOAA stated on its website.

Richard Schurin, one of the leaders of the Island Park Equinor Windmill Committee, expressed his opinion about the project and what he sees as its connection to the mortality event. “It’s kind of undeniable, at this point, and my understanding is that sonar activities, sonar work was going was taking place off of New Jersey, coastal south of us. And these whales, they go back and forth. I’m not surprised that they’re impacted by this,” Schurin said.

A spokesperson for broad energy company Equinor said experienced offshore wind companies do more than any other industry to track and monitor the marine environment. Equinor is in the middle stages of its approved $3 billion project, Empire Wind 1 and 2. As part of the project, 147 wind turbines, 886 feet high, will be built 15 to 30 miles offshore of Island Park and Long Beach.

“For example, Equinor deploys sophisticated passive acoustic monitoring buoys in the vicinity of our operations off the coast of New York to collect real-time whale tracking data in partnership with scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to detect the presence of marine mammals,” the company stated in an email.

In Maryland, after whales continued to wash up on beaches, politicians including Rep. Andy Harris called for a moratorium on wind farm construction until it could be definitively proven offshore wind is not the cause of repeated whale deaths.

On Jan. 31, a group of New Jersey mayors called for an immediate moratorium on offshore wind development. The Detroit Free Press reported that this request was based on the discovery of Luna on Lido Beach.

“While we are not opposed to clean energy, we are concerned about the impacts these (offshore wind) projects may already be having on our environment,” the 12 mayors wrote in a letter to federal officials.